BOCC to Copper: It’s too big
BRECKENRIDGE – “Build it and they will come,” is not a philosophy Summit County commissioners are banking on when it comes to proposed development at Copper Mountain Resort.
The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on May 10 hammered resort owner Intrawest on its plan to add 1,155 residential units to Copper, and voted to continue consideration to July 12.
But first, the BOCC and Intrawest will meet in a June 7 public work session to continue talks on how the Copper buildout plan might be modified and approved.
Intrawest maintains that it needs the additional density – even when it has not built 500 residential units still allowed in its current Copper Mountain Planned Unit Development (PUD) – to create the critical mass required for a sustainable year-round resort.
The commissioners usually don’t discuss development proposals outside the traditional process, but they agreed to the public work session, which was suggested by Intrawest regional vice president Joe Whitehouse, who expressed frustration with the process after the board voted to continue a decision for the seventh time.
During more than three hours of public testimony May 10, 28 of about 40 people – most of them Copper employees and homeowners – spoke in favor of the PUD as proposed. Those comments collectively urged the commissioners to approve the added density to create more activity and business at the resort.
Members of the public repeatedly spoke of the need for “critical mass,” but Commissioner Bill Wallace questioned whether more development would improve the economics, when the first round of development after the Intrawest takeover of the resort has brought mixed results to independent businesses and the offseason has been deader than ever.
“It bothers me that (center village construction) was completed at best a year ago and you’re already saying there’s not enough density to support it,” Wallace said.
Intrawest recently completed what was dubbed a “renaissance” in the resort’s center village, building 500 new units in five condominium buildings and adding more than a dozen new shops.
Wallace suggested first building 500 units already approved in Copper’s center village, and suggested he might support 600 more – half of what the ski company asked for – and then evaluate the situation in the future.
“Why keep doing the same thing and have no reason for people to go out there?” he asked. “It makes no sense.”
Wallace said that in the seven years he has served on the BOCC, it has never approved an increase in density except for affordable housing and in instances where development rights were purchased and then transferred into the parcel (also called transferrable development rights, or TDRs), effectively reducing density elsewhere in the county.
Summit County planning staff has repeatedly addressed the subject of Intrawest possibly purchasing TDRs, but the company has not warmed up to the idea and offered an array of public benefits instead.
It is not obligated by the county code or master plan to work with TDRs.
Intrawest decreased its original density request of more than 1,300 units by about 10 percent after a March meeting and came to the table May 10 with a 29 percent reduction in mass on some of the buildings – but no reduction in the number of proposed units.
Commissioner Tom Long said he “didn’t see much progress” on the density issue, adding that if Whitehouse did not agree to a continuance, he would have voted “no” on the proposal.
Long questioned the argument that added density is important for future development at the resort.
“If density is so important, then why haven’t the remaining 500 units been built that are in the current PUD?” he asked.
Lindstrom also voiced concern about the added density, noting that in the master plan process in the Upper Blue Basin surrounding Breckenridge, density was reduced by 20 percent.
Lindstrom also suggested building 500 units already approved in the PUD and then phasing in the rest.
The commissioners said May 10 they are also not buying Intrawest’s proposed public benefits package offered by the company in exchange for added density.
The benefits package is estimated to be worth more than $6.5 million, and includes a new fire station, new chapel and $600,000 in cash toward a new Community Care Clinic and the proposed recreation path paralleling Swan Mountain Road.
Wallace said May 10 he did not consider several key items to be a benefit to the public, but an obligation to the company.
“If you tear a fire station down to build a 135-foot-high building, I think you have an obligation to rebuild it,” he said. “Those are not benefits in my book.”
Lindstrom said he would not entertain future cash offers as part of a benefits package because he won’t be accused of accepting a bribe.
A lawyer for homeowners at The Lodge at Copper suggested in an April letter to commissioners that if they approved the PUD with its controversial Union Creek gondola built right next to The Lodge, it would be a “payoff.”
Lindstrom said he was “offended” by the suggestion and recommended that Intrawest look for other ways to provide public benefits in its development package.
Copper vs. the community
During the public comment period, an us-versus-them attitude became apparent as people from Breckenridge voiced concern over countywide effects of the Copper PUD.
Copper residents and employees shot back that Breckenridge folks had no place in commenting on development at Copper.
Breckenridge Town Councilmember Eric Mamula said he spoke for several elected officials, but not everyone, when he addressed the huge increase in Copper’s density.
“The trend the community has been going through is a general spirit of cooperation to decrease density rather than upzoning,” Mamula said.
He said TDRs and open space purchases have been “very important and very citizen-driven” in the Upper Blue Basin.
He said the $6.5 million in public benefits is “paltry” compared to what Intrawest would have to pay if it was to purchase TDRs for the added density. A TDR in the Upper Blue is currently valued at $34,000.
“The public benefits (in Breckenridge projects) was an aside and it seems they are taking the place of density here, and I take issue with that,” Mamula said.
Ken Adams, a developer in Breckenridge, said he was “shocked” to see added density proposed at Copper.
“If you were to propose something like this in the Upper Blue, it would cost you upward of $40 million,” he said.
A few minutes after Mamula and Adams spoke, Dan Basica of Copper Mountain, a proponent of the PUD, said, “I’m not sure if this is a meeting on the Copper PUD or a meeting of the Breckenridge Town Council.”
The audience applauded when Basica said there was a “follow the money” attitude in comments coming from Breckenridge. Basica is the former chairman of the Ten Mile Planning Commission, which recommended the PUD be approved.
Lane Griffith, who owns a fourth-floor unit at The Lodge at Copper, said Intrawest was “bulldozing” the homeowners in negotiations to find alternative routes for a horizontal gondola that, as proposed, will pass within 30 feet of the lodge.
Another Lodge unit owner called mitigation procedures offered by the company, which include planting trees and building a retaining wall to reduce impacts, “a joke.”
Commissioner Wallace has flip-flopped on the issue, initially saying he was against the gondola location and in March changing his mind to support it. Monday, Wallace suggested pulling the issue out of the PUD and restudying it.
Lindstrom, who had previously been silent about the gondola location, called it a “wonderful idea,” while Long said he thought the gondola “could be achieved and workable.” Long also suggested further negotiations with homeowners with visual representations of its proposed location.
The number of future parking spaces to be provided at Copper was also an issue. Intrawest’s recent offer to make $100,000 of improvements to the parking lot at West Main Street in Frisco boded well with the town’s officials, who submitted a letter from Mayor Bernie Zurbriggen endorsing the parking portion of the PUD.
The Frisco solution was not as well received by the BOCC.
Long noted the planning staff’s comment that Intrawest officials did not agree to provide bus service from the Frisco overflow parking to the resort, but instead expected skiers and riders to take the Summit Stage.
“I don’t want to personally support transportation for the ski area,” Long said of the three-quarters penny sales tax consumers in the county pay to support the free Summit Stage.
“There is no way I’d approve putting parking in someone else’s town, no matter what the town says,” Lindstrom said of the parking issue. The company proposed 3,800 spaces at the resort, but it is unclear where they will be located.
While Intrawest increased its affordable housing plan to include an additional 50 percent of integrated units, bringing the number from 29 units to 44, Long questioned whether, at 3 percent of the total units proposed, that number is enough.
Whitehouse commented after the meeting that he felt the commissioners did not understand Copper’s history on affordable housing and that the resort has been a front-runner in providing such housing since the 1970s.
In addition to the integrated units, which Copper has built in most of its condominiums over the years, the company has a seasonal housing project called The Edge in the old Club Med complex, in which it houses 60 percent of its employees during the ski season.
At the end of Monday’s meeting, Whitehouse said he was “disappointed” that the issue was continued.
The PUD has been under consideration since 2001 and was scrutinized at the planning commission level 10 times and by the BOCC seven times.
Whitehouse said he was encouraged the commissioners agreed to a work session and looked forward to hearing more on their concerns June 7.
Kim Marquis can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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